Entirely new online text game needs design feedback!

I’m one of a team of two software engineers (Microsoft, Adobe) and an IT pro who have been spending their free time to develop an entirely new online text game over the past few months. We’re calling it “Tohm” (pronounced “Tome”), and it’s not based on any existing codebase. I hope you all in the text gaming community support us with your suggestions and criticisms so we can make Tohm the best it can be! We’d really appreciate your honest and thoughtful feedback, especially now while we work toward our open alpha release, when even big changes are still doable.

To prove this isn’t just another pipe dream, I’ve started a series of videos demonstrating our progress. Here’s the first:


Some key design elements (those not illustrated in the video):

  1. Tactical combat, with emphasis on decision making and risk management over speed of execution.
  2. Fewer rooms with a very high level of detail, including dynamic text for day/night, regional weather patterns, and four seasons.
  3. Combo-based skills and spell-casting, so players can experiment and discover while memorizing fewer verbs.
  4. Very low barrier to entry - flexible command line syntax, lots of verb aliases covering common diction.
  5. Fewer, more significant battles (grinding sucks).
  6. Epic quests, not lists of chores.
  7. Skills grow based on usage alone - no tables to study or skill points to allocate.

Our wiki documents design motivations, and is here: tohm.wikia.com

Our forums for design discussion are here: tohm.forumotion.com

Also, if you know of any other active communities of text gamers I should reach out to, please tell me. Thank you very much!

The project certainly sounds interesting, I will be following your progress.

My guess is that you would find a more natural audience in MUD communities. There are some people here who are into MUDs and text-based combat RPGs and the like, but it’s not really this community’s focus - the games we make tend to have no combat whatsoever (though there are are a number of significant exceptions - Cryptozookeeper, Kerkerkruip, Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom) and focus on things like puzzle, narrative and prose.

Your YouTube trailer seems to be to be very much a trailer for devs - and that’s kind of the wrong pitch, because as I understand it you’re pitching a game, not a development platform. You spend most of your time talking about UI, for instance - and for most players, UI isn’t very interesting. It matters, sure, but they’re not interested in it: they just want it to be sufficiently good that it doesn’t get in their way. When I have my Player Hat on, what I’m interested in is mostly content.

That’s natural, I suppose - you’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the platform so that’s what you want to talk about. It looks as though you’ve made some nice display and UI choices: the disappearing-UI-text and the room-description-at-the-top stuff are sensible design choices. But I’m not all that interested, prima facie, in Generic Game Where I Hit Zombies With A Sword. A pattern we see a lot here is that someone cooks up a new platform, runs out of energy in the process, then kicks out a pretty lacklustre example game. Then when the general response is ‘enh’, they take that as a sign that nobody likes the platform - well, y’know, that’s because nobody likes platforms per se, they like the content that platforms make possible. If you want people super-excited about what you’re doing, do something that really shows off what your platform is capable of. You’re talking about epic plot without grind, more significant battles, high-detail dynamic rooms - cool, those are super-awesome things that I’d like to see in a game, that’s what you need to be leading with.

And this is particularly true of CRPGs, which really, really rely on having a fuckton of content. (I got Skyrim last week, along with every other cheapskate procrastinator, and I am sure that there are things I dislike about it but I do not know what they are yet because I’m still at the stage of ‘holy shit this is a lot of content’. Also ‘jesus on a pogo-stick, that is some glorious-looking scenery.’)

(Also, jeez, this is like the third anti-skill-tree thing I’ve heard today. What’s with that? Skill trees are juicy goodness.)

I can tell this is ambitious on a technical level, but as maga notes, I can’t tell anything at all about the world or play experience. You write, “We hope to create a gaming experience that feels truly new rather than just another flavor of World of Warcraft or Zork, and one that attracts both some of today’s gamers and non-gaming fantasy readers.”

…so, what makes this special? Besides the interface?

I’m only going to talk about the UI/UX decisions seen in the video.

There are a number of long-time IF (yes, including myself) folks who have been studying and working very hard at finding better ways to present and IF game. So far, we haven’t really succeeded in any way to broaden our audience or to shorten the atrocious learning curve people have with parser based IF games.

The UX you’ve come up with has some prettiness to it, but you should plan on doing a lot of user-testing with non-IF people. You do this to find out if you actually have made IF easier or not. You can guess at UI designs forever (we have), but unless you actually test on the uninitiated, you’re not really improving anything.

I’ve been playing with touch-based designs to see if that helps with the learning curve, but until I get it out and get feedback, I’m not holding my breath. I think it might work, but who knows what the uninitiated will think.

My suggestion would be to make a small, but fun game and work on a feedback mechanism (maybe use UserVoice). Don’t for a second think you’re done or even close to done. Selling IF (and I mean getting eyes to stay on it for more than 5 minutes) is not a trivial task.

David C.

It looks interesting, but based on the selling points and the road map it seems to be leaning heavily on combat. You might actually get more interest from players of graphical hack-n-slashes or people who play those online rpg things like Kingdom of Loathing. Most IF people are more story-n-puzzle oriented, so it’s a tough sell here.

Is there a common gathering place/forum for players of games like KoL? Or do they mostly stick to their respective game forums?

I don’t know of a common discussion forum. (Probably because each game in that genre has a forum, which tends to be lively and well-populated.)

From the casual-text-RPG point of view: your big UI innovation is using a command-line prompt at all. (KoL and Fallen London are hyperlink-based, shading towards a “traditional” CRPG interface for managing lists of resources and skills.) Does this add anything? Your demo involves typing “punch” over and over, which could be a button – a far lower barrier to entry, no matter how many synonyms you support. (Same for “go to inn”, since you’ve already committed to displaying a list of available exits.)


Thanks for your straight-forward feedback! This community was suggested to me by some MUD gamers as a place where I might find a few who are interested. I hope you don’t feel I’m butting-in where I’m not welcome.

Regarding the pitch, it’s not intended to be a pitch. Because the game is very incomplete and has virtually zero content, we’re not trying to attract players - we’re here to get some thoughtful feedback on the platform. I do recognize that quality content is critical to a fun game. :slight_smile: We will be adding minimal content to show off the platform in future videos, as we did for this video (before the zombie, there was nothing to attack us to generate red text). When the platform features reach our alpha goal, we’ll push some more content, and then alternate features/content going forward.

We do plan a skill tree, just not one that you view as text and explicitly add points into.


If you don’t want to wait for more videos (I’ll continue to post here unless someone tells me to get out of here with my unwelcome topics), you could read more on the wiki I linked (tohm.wikia.com).


I totally agree with you. I know getting the uninitiated to use a command line and text-only interface is one of the biggest challenges we’ll face. We’ve already added logging to see how often players fail to use the command line correctly, and what they actually tried, which will help to an extent. I’m not sure how to detect the “I came, I saw briefly, I didn’t like” user experience, maybe you have some specific ideas there?


Our thinking for now is that if we get sufficiently relaxed syntax and plenty o’ synonyms in the dictionary, then most players won’t need autocomplete. What I don’t like about autocomplete is that it undermines the potential for a sense of limitless possibilities by giving you a very limited set of buttons to work with rather than an open-ended language. I know there will always be some players who fall through the cracks due to this design decision, but I hope it makes up the difference with value add. When I first discovered text gaming, I remember being in awe, wondering about all the possibilities I would discover in a game world that felt like a real adventure rather than an arcade game that expected me to optimize four actions for maximum score. I hope we can keep that for players without frustrating them at the same time, but maybe we’ll prove me wrong and end up making the switch to a menu-esque autocomplete. :slight_smile:


I thought we were going backward by going back to a prompt - would building a wooden airplane today be “innovation”? :wink: Just yanking your chain.


If I’m a bad guy for starting a thread about a MUD-style game here, just tell me and won’t post about our progress. I would like to have more of this sort of discussion, though! I’m enjoying it, and I think it will benefit our game.

Post away! This community loves picking apart ideas/games/systems etc, in a way that can be incredibly helpful to authors if they take it the right way, and might seem a little mean if they don’t.

Not at all - we’re interested in stuff that falls outside our immediate bailiwick! I didn’t know whether you were already in touch with MUD communities or not, because they seem likely to be more useful to you.

We’re in sympathy on this one. Which is to say, we feel your pain. Boy howdy.

The standard wisdom 'round these here parts is that making basic parsers is quite easy, but making sophisticated, responsive parsers is really, really hard. Homebrew systems are kind of synonymous with ‘shoddy parser’ around here, precisely because making a parser run smoothly is an easily-underestimated task, even if you’re only targeting people who are experienced with parser games. (I’m not saying this is a bad idea, please note: I’m just stressing that it may be a bigger job than you have anticipated.)

Diverging from the parser question here, I noticed in the design notes an emphasis on making things easier for the player to read, and especially on adding more things to read (like detailed dynamic room descriptions).

I’m wondering if this is a good idea. In theory I like the idea of a more immersive text environment. In practice though as a player I would prefer an environment that created immersion through interaction, rather than consumption if that makes sense. Sure it’s great if your room description has a day/night cycle and changes with the weather. But if this doesn’t affect my character and their actions it doesn’t go very far IMO.

Not to say cosmetics aren’t important. But if you consider that someone playing a real-time game will quickly experience all your dynamic descriptions have to offer (unless you’re constantly writing them, or your procedural engine is crazy good), wouldn’t effort be better spent in interactive systems?

I think you should seriously consider ditching 100% hand-written descriptions with dynamic substitutions in favor of a blend of some choice hand-written strings with mostly procedural dynamic text as in God Wars 2. An example:

This is fully dynamic based on the player’s form, equipment, and the current weather and time. Your equipment gets wet in the rain, etcetera.

Already did read the wiki. My comment was more to back up maga - it could be the coolest interface in the world, but unless you build an interesting game on it, I’ll never go near it. And I don’t know anything about your game.

(Admittedly, I didn’t watch the videos. But I hate watching videos.)

Do you know that the perhaps best known roguelike RPG is called “ToME”? The name you’ve chosen will certainly be a source of confusion, especially since in the roguelike community similar sounding names almost always indicate direct descent of code base.

I concur. To minimise confusion, change the name to Ernband.


We already have dynamic descriptions based on weather/time/season, and I’ll be posting to ask for feedback in that area when it’s fleshed out some more. I entirely agree with your point about making the environment relevant to gameplay rather than just “eye candy”. We plan to consider location/weather/time for the relative strengths of different schools of magic, how difficult it is to hide and sneak around, whether taking cover from projectiles is effective, the probability of a surprise attack, and more. Stay tuned. :slight_smile:


Yep, I’ve heard that feedback a couple of times, now. I dunno how my web search for games called Tome didn’t hit that for me. We’ll consider other options - any suggestions for a short name which is easy to spell and implies a text experience?


I fully expect making the command line actually work the way we want it to to be a major challenge. Also, based on previous experience, I always assume any software project I start will end up being more difficult and involved than I ever imagined it would be. :slight_smile: